AILA Public Statements, Press Releases

AILA Joins Senators in Call for Immigration Court Reform and Access to Counsel

George Tzamaras
Belle Woods

WASHINGTON, DC - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) welcomes the introduction of the "Immigration Court Improvement Act of 2019" and the "Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2019" in the U.S. Senate, led by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).

Anastasia Tonello, AILA President, noted, "The U.S. immigration court system suffers from longstanding and profound problems that have hampered the capacity of the courts to deliver timely and fair decisions and undermined the public's confidence in the system itself. Since the creation of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, the courts have been controlled by the Department of Justice (DOJ), rendering them vulnerable to interference from the agency that serves as chief prosecutor for immigration cases. The 'Immigration Court Improvement Act of 2019' addresses these flaws by blocking DOJ from implementing the 'quota system' as a performance appraisal tool and putting in place measures that would help shore up judicial independence. This legislation is a small but crucial step toward urgently needed structural reform. As the next step, AILA calls upon Congress to create an independent immigration court system separate from the Department of Justice and vested with the powers of a full Article I court."

Benjamin Johnson, AILA Executive Director stated, "Even though our immigration laws are among the most complicated in the world, the government still does not guarantee legal counsel for indigent asylum seekers, children, and other vulnerable groups who cannot afford a lawyer. Though statistics show that assistance of counsel has a significant positive impact on outcomes, over the years, thousands of families and unaccompanied children have appeared in immigration court without a lawyer at their side, which can mean the difference between life and death. The 'Fair Day in Court for Kids Act' would guarantee the appointment of counsel for unaccompanied children and strengthen legal orientation programs, among other important fixes. If enacted, this legislation would provide vital safeguards for children and adults navigating this complex system. We stand with Senator Hirono, Senator Cortez-Masto, and Senator Merkley and urge bipartisan support in these efforts to balance the scales of justice. Now is the time for our nation to restore integrity to our immigration courts and fairness to our immigration legal system."